UPDATED 6 November 2011
I’m no longer dreaming of Scarlet, but the Canon Cinema DSLR.
The Scarlet dream was essentially crushed due to its delay and as that day has finally arrived (3 Nov. 2011), I’m glad I didn’t wait. I can’t afford this dream. But the Scarlet-X announcement wasn’t really that shocking. As I noted when I wrote the original article back in March:
Jim Jannard, the founder and visionary behind the RED camera, explained how the higher-end Scarlet is being renamed the Epic-S (a light version of the Epic-X) and it will be a professional camera priced at about $12,000 — and that this will be shipping after the Epic M and X models.
The writing, apparently, was on the RED User wall, for all to read. The higher-end Scarlet didn’t become the Epic-S — it became the Scarlet-X, and all lower end models (3K and less expensive) went out the door. Many were in denial, but the Canon 5D Mark II was the game-changer that sunk the original Scarlet ship. Believe me, I was holding out for the original $3500 Scarlet, then I thought maybe I could save enough for a $6500 Scarlet, but then I saw the 5D Mark II in the artistic hands of Shane Hurlbut, ASC on the set of Po Chan’s “The Last 3 Minutes”:
I observed, I thought, I asked questions. I changed my mind. That’s what critical and creative thinkers do. We don’t hold on to one way of doing things. Otherwise we become rigid and old. I purchased a 5D Mark II with several Zeiss Contax lenses and Canon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 — all cheaper than the old $6500-7000 Scarlet. I have no regrets. I never feel like I’m shooting video or shooting on a video camera when the 5D Mark II is in my hands. It feels like the time I shot on 16mm film with an Arriflex camera back at NYU. I feel excited about filmmaking again. (I never felt that way with 1/3-inch prosumer video cameras.)
Because of the 5D Mark II and the subsequent sales of Canon’s 7D ($1700), 60D ($1000), and Rebel models (under $1000) the prosumer video camera market — formerly stuck in the 1/3-inch sensor scale (17.3mm squared), evolved. They had to. And Panasonic’s AF100 (micro 4/3 sensor at 178mm squared) and Sony’s FS100 (S35 sensor at 313.9mm squared) at about $5000 (for the body) sealed the deal against the lower-priced, 2/3-inch (58.1mm squared) Scarlet’s fate. RED would have to release a $3000-35000 Scarlet with that chip size to stay competitive with DSLRs and the newer prosumer video cameras. But that was never their market — they’re selling the camera of the 4K and higher future.
And Canon, with its concept 4K cinema DSLR (mirrorless) to be released, perhaps, within 12 months, is already nipping at RED’s heal, trying to buy into that future pioneered by Jim Jannard and his team.
ORIGINAL article 1 March 2011:
It appears that the HDSLR revolution may have forced the original vision of RED’s Scarlet into extinction. OK, as Mr. Spock said, an exaggeration. But it has been nearly three years since the original announcement at NAB, and still no Scarlet:
No Film School posted how the high end Scarlet is being replaced by the Epic-S camera for around $12,000 (formerly announced at nearly $7,000).
Jim Jannard, the founder and visionary behind the RED camera, explained how the higher-end Scarlet is being renamed the Epic-S (a light version of the Epic-X) and it will be a professional camera priced at about $12,000 — and that this will be shipping after the Epic M and X models:
I know many of you are waiting to hear what is happening on the EPIC-S front. While I still don’t have final details from the engineers, here is what we know now.
1. We have moved from the less robust Scarlet S35 chassis to the EPIC S35 chassis (like going from the economy car frame to the truck frame). Pro, not prosumer. […]
5. Price has risen due to the chassis and HDRx™ change/additions. Expect somewhere in the neighborhood of $12K. Package prices will be posted as soon as we are sure what they will be. We will not post another “interim” price structure in the meantime. Next price posting will be final.
6. EPIC-S will use the same production line as its big brothers (which we are setting up now in California) so there will be no additional delays to produce this model. However, the EPIC-M and EPIC-X models will be released 1st as has previously been noted. […]
Given the competitive landscape, we think that the EPIC-S will have no price/performance competition. Think 5K, REDCODE RAW, HDRx™, record to SSD, modular system, size of a Hasselblad with many mature professional workflow options. (Epic-S (old Scarlet S35) update, Jan. 1, 2011).
I was — and still a little — excited about the Scarlet. Last year, I researched my book, DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video (Focal Press, 2011):
During this research, I interviewed Ted Schilowitz, Number 2, at Red, and he discussed how Red is focused on resolution as the key to attaining cinematic image quality:
We at Red are resolution fiends. We believe the more the better. We believe in the history and the legacy of celluloid and the reasons why film has lasted so long and has been so successful through so many other technological changes is that there is a nice amount of usable resolution in shooting 35 mm film to get it up to large size cinema screens.
In short, HDSLRs are good as “still cameras”, but limited resolution prevents them becoming cinema cameras, Schilowitz feels.
Indeed, many people, including me, held out, hoping for the release of Red’s Scarlet any month now.
Even last month we saw footage of a real Scarlet, so we know it’s coming sometime (perhaps at this year’s NAB — but I’m not holding my breath):
Ted Schilowitz shows of the Scarlet, recently at the Consumer’s Electronic Show:
While doing this research in Los Angeles last March, in which I interviewed Philip Bloom, Jared Abrams, Ted Schilowitz, Jeremy Ian Thomas, Neil Smith, Shane Hurlbut, ASC, among others for the book, I planned on purchasing a Scarlet. I came out of the Red Studios tour with Schilowitz convinced that holding out for the best was the way to go. In Schilowitz’s words at the end of the interview:
If you are looking to move into a camera that is going to be very affordable, that is going to shoot the kind of motion picture images you want, extract the kind of stills that you want to get out of it simultaneously, and you are not an EPIC customer because you are not talking about $30 to $40 thousand dollars in terms of the full-on set of gear (which is still remarkably inexpensive for professional use), but if you are under that [budget], if you are an indy film maker, a student film maker, if you are a high end amateur, then look at the success that has come before with the Red One and make a choice because [the Scarlet] is like a miniature version of that.
Great resolution, great functions (XLR inputs, RED RAW codec, and so forth) — why would I get a Canon 5D Mark II if I can get a cinema camera for another $1500 or so. Get real.
Then I darted over through the Hollywood traffic to Hdi RAWworks and talked with Neil Smith, the company’s CEO, who had originally developed it as a postproduction house for the Red camera. He told me last March (2010) that Red would have a hard time delivering the Scarlet, because they didn’t have the infrastructure to handle a large volume of sales that, for example, Canon was getting with their cameras.
I wasn’t convinced. Any company can market a product and get it to the consumers’ hands. However, here’s Smith’s clincher that made me doubt my Scarlet dreams (as transcribed in my interview with him):
We are a Red house, we know image quality, we graded the first 4K images off of the first spread. We understand all about color space and resolution. And then we got Rodney [Charters, ASC, dp of 24] to come in here one day and do a comparison test. […] And they shot here on the lot a Red, a [Canon] 5D and a [Canon] 7D. And I don’t know if Jeremy [Ian Thomas] showed you the footage? He should have, if he didn’t show it to you, you should have a quick look at that. Because we did this. Rodney was with us for a day.
He shot Red, 5D, and 7D and we made this nice little story and they shot it here on the lot and we showed this intercut demo to hundreds of people, ASC DPs, independent filmmakers, documentary makers […]. And we actually showed [the film] in a room of 200 filmmakers at HD Expo in October of last year. We asked everybody, if you can guess absolutely correctly which is Red, 5D, which is 7D and we will buy you the best meal you ever had. Have not had to buy a meal.
My heart beat faster. What? Professional image makers couldn’t tell the difference? I mean, haven’t scientific tests (as Schilowitz mentioned in his interview) been done?
In fact, chip chart tests support Red’s position:
Image from Field Dominance. See http://www.fielddominance.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/resolution-chart.jpg for a full scale image.
Certainly, the 7D looks weak on this chart. Why couldn’t these filmmakers see it? At the end of the interview, Smith walked me over to Jeremy Thomas’ editing suite and they put up Rodney Charters, ASC film — “Dream in Possible” — onto a studio quality plasma screen:
They offered me the same deal. Guess which camera was behind particular shots, and they would give me a free meal. I guessed wrong, just like many of the others — including, according to Smith, Schilowitz himself.
Later, doing additional research, I came across Jared Abrams’s (Cinema 5D news) interview with Lucasfilm’s head of postproduction, Mike Blanchard, who felt that DSLR footage wouldn’t hold up to the big screen — but then discovered otherwise:
“Certainly when we just look at the footage and put it on a big screen it holds up way better than it has a right to,” he says. A lot of people get caught up in the numbers game, comparing one type of camera to another, he continues, such as the argument that
film is 4K, blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s really not, because nobody ever sees a projected negative. So by the time you do a release print and [put it] through its paces, it’s no way near [what] a lot of people claim that it really is. So the great part about working at Lucasfilm, for people like Rick [McCallum] and George [Lucas] — working for them — is that you just show them things and that’s where it ends. We don’t do little charts about how it doesn’t have that or it doesn’t do that. We make it work. And that’s just a beautiful way to do work, because it opens up everything. (Interview with Jared Abrams, 15 April 2010).
Blanchard is right in the 2K world, but 4K? Perhaps film does drop to around 2K after it comes to our local theaters, but when those local theaters start screening on 4K projectors, then Red’s ahead of the game.
Despite all of this, I decided to purchase a Canon 5D Mark II and never looked back. If the Scarlet came out for $3700, perhaps I would consider it, but whatever the new price will be (perhaps $5,000, but perhaps higher), it’s still a lot more than a $800 Canon Rebel — and, yes, deservedly so (the Scarlet will out perform the Rebel, so there’s no argument there).
And now Sony and Panasonic have released prosumer video cameras with larger chips, because they realized that there’s a market for cinema-like cameras and the ENG market — at least for low budget cinema makers, independents, and cinema students — just wasn’t good enough when faced with the soul of the Canon HDSLR camera.
I’ve seen Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, beautifully shot by Jody Lee Lipes on a Canon 7D. I watched it at New York City’s Independent Film Channel movie theater in November — so it was on a big screen. Here’s a preview:
In short, the story’s good and the 7D delivered a strong cinematic image (despite all the published information about its weaknesses with moire, rolling shutter, chip charts, blah, blah, blah, to quote Blanchard from Lucasfilm). The movie delivered, because it had a strong story and I didn’t see any weaknesses in the cinematography, despite it being shot on a $1700 camera. The camera can deliver a cinematic look in the hands of a good cinematographer.
And in my classroom of 24 students in an introduction to video production class at Northern Arizona University, every one of them loved using Canon’s Rebel T2i (the School of Communication purchased 18 of them). Some of my students purchased their own cameras, and for $800 how can you go wrong?
Even if you have to spend another $1,000 to get good audio and other accessories, you’re still paying less than a prosumer video camera. And for the first time in eight years of teaching such classes, I’m seeing better looking images coming out of that little Rebel than $3500 video cameras. And now I’m teaching a class on DSLR Cinematography. It could be taught with prosumer video cameras, but why waste the money on a $3500 camera, when you can do more with an $800 camera?
Let’s face it, it appears Canon beat Red at their own game (at least in the $2K market).
Kurt Lancaster, PhD, is the author of “DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video, Focal Press, 2011.” He teaches digital filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication.